Now, ask yourself: how many times have you pitch corrected, quantized, cut, pasted, used a sound replacer on the drums, applied sample after sample, and time stretched tracks to try to make a tune stand up with today’s so-called industry standard? Do you notice the symmetry that occurs from this kind of work? Do you hear it in the work of others? Does it leave you with a less-than-satisfied feeling when the main hook of a tune is a micro sound bite meant to be an ear worm that drags you in like so much fast food, but doesn’t deliver much beyond that? How flat is top ten radio these days? Music that has been “turd-polished” is usually dead on arrival no matter how many times the hype men on the airwaves read the script and no matter who pushes it into movies and television, no matter how much money it garners.
Do you notice when a band has a superlative track that makes you feel so good that you want to listen for the whole three minutes and then again? Sure you do, and you know why, too. That music has soul. It doesn’t matter if the track moves a little or if the singer pushes the pitch envelope some or if the riff isn’t cookie cutter perfect every time. In fact, the subtle imperfections in the track often go unnoticed by the listeners as the connection between them and the band they are discovering is created and cemented by the joy of the experience.
I’m not pushing for anything less than excellence whether I’m behind the mics making the noise or in the producer’s chair trying to capture it. That said, a great song, hard work, courage, and the joyful flexibility of knowing when to recognize the magic in a performance are key to a tune’s success. Knowing when to let go and when to see the whole of a piece as being perfect in its potential imperfection often leads to surprising and happy results.
Dave Clark is a musician, recordist, and educator who lives in Toronto. His latest work has been with Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles and with his own band the Woodshed Orchestra. Dave toils away in Bon’s Cave making musical cookies for all the folks to eat.